Being in Peru for a little bit over 4 months, I have been able to meet several people, gone to many different places, and tried many different dishes. Today I won’t talk about adventuring in Lima, but I’ll focus my blog on a person. A Peruvian individual who I’ve gotten to know over these months has inspired me to write this blog. This blog is in appreciation for all she does and all she doesn’t know she does for me and my host parents. This person is a 27 year old Peruvian woman (girl, like me, in my eyes) who is from the Andean part of the country. She is humble and pleasant to be around. For confidential reasons I will call her by a made up name.
I met Linda the first day I moved in with my host parents. It was a cultural slap in the face since day one. I noticed she acknowledged me as “miss” and averted her eyes most of the time. She’d serve me breakfast and dinner at the appropriate times. I remember how awkward and confused I was. Why was a young girl my age doing things I could very well do for my own? (note-although I’m legally an adult/ grown woman, I feel like a child and I refer myself as a girl, because “woman” still is a bit alien to me. I guess you can say that I have yet to accept the full responsibility of what “grown woman” entails. I still have a lot of growing up to do. haha)
Anyway, Linda was not much of the conversationalist, but I persisted. I tried my best to make her feel like we were not as different as she must have thought of me to be. She probably thought “oh another snooty exchange student”. She definitely stayed her distance the first few days of my arrival.
I encouraged her to sit with me at the dinner table and talk to me. Without fail dinner is always ready and I’m supposed to eat at 7:30 every night. So instead of eating alone because both my host parents, a veterinarian and a boutique owner, are working, I tried to start a conversation. Little by little, day by day, we got to know each other. Linda is a domestic worker/ live-in maid who spends the night and works for my host family during the week. She goes home during the weekends only. It is quite customary in Peru to have domestic workers. It also gives you a social status.
I was pretty shocked. Never in my life did I have someone other than mi mama/mom cook for me and clean after me. Nonetheless, Linda doesn’t just cook me homemade Peruvian food, and has my breakfast of fruit ready at 8:30 every morning. She calls the laundromat whenever I need to get my clothes washed every 2-3 weeks and makes sure I have it delivered to the house. She sweeps my room and throws my trash away. Also, sometimes when I forget to do my bed due to laziness or because I am in a rush to get out of the house to hop on a bus to go to the university, I come home after school with my bed nicely done with my stuffed, polka-dotted, blue dog perched on top of my pillows. She also walks up the stairs with a tray of food whenever my body decides to get sick. During those times she has gone to the pharmacy to buy medicine as well.
So, basically Linda is my hero. Plenty of girls/women like Linda exist in Peru. They are the domestic workers who clean, cook, take care of children and the elderly, and, I’m sure, do other various tasks. Are they appreciated as they should, probably not? They are easily taken as invisible.
For my study abroad, there is a volunteering component, and I happen to volunteer at a place called La Casa de Panchita (Panchita’s House). It is a safe haven for young girls (8-13 year old) and older women who are domestic workers or at risk of being domestic workers. It’s an employment agency that allows women to develop and grow in the atmosphere in which they are in. They are made aware of their rights as a domestic worker and are given the tools to better themselves in their work environment.
My volunteering mostly involves playing with the young girls and engaging in activities to make them aware of their situation. It surprises me how many girls are aware of their rights and risks of being a domestic worker. It saddened me the first time I volunteered to see how these girls had to grow and mature at a faster rate than other kids just because of their economic situation. My feelings have changed since the first day. I believe La Casa de Panchita is empowering these young girls and older women. In a country filled with racism pointed towards the mainly indigenous, and sexism and machismo that affects many of the Latin American countries, women are more likely to become victims of discrimination and whatever other baggage an indigenous female that may or may not know Spanish have put against her.
So now Linda, calls me by my name and sometimes by “Ana”. Every night at 7:30, whenever my host parents can’t join me for dinner, Linda turns the television on and sits with me as I talk about all the craziness of my life. I don’t really consider her a mere domestic worker. She has become a friend of mine. She may be 6 years older than I, and from a different background than I, but we are in the same wavelength when we talk about girly things or anything that involves life. We have shared many laughs and on her part plenty of gasps and giggles before saying “Oh Analhi”. I’ve braded her hair, and we’ve gone to the pharmacy together. We have our mini gossip sessions or just talk about life. I like her a lot because she thinks I’m funny. Anyone who thinks I’m funny is a friend of mine. I definitely don’t think I’m funny even when I’m trying to be.
So here is to you Linda and all who spend countless hours at a home that you cannot call yours, for being away from who you love while you care and tend for others who may or may not value you. You are appreciated! I wish more bridges would form instead of having people distance each other because of their race, economic status, or gender. As the golden rule states “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31, I do believe)